Rural poor reap benefits from old-style social networking

Joining the local softball league may or may not make your husband a better fielder—but a new study shows that it could make him a better parent.

The study, by the National Council on Family Relations, observed nearly 300 mostly rural, white families. Like other studies before it, it found a strong correlation between poverty and depression.

But this new study found that correlation was diminished when the parents were involved in strong social networks—such as community groups, churches, school or sports-related activities.

That discovery matters, say the study’s authors, because depressed parents have been shown to be less-engaged, less-supportive parents.

Social support mechanisms such as community groups, churches, and school or sports-related activities, can act as a barrier against negative thinking and allow parents who are prone to depression to make better, more positive choices and engage in healthy parental practices.

The study has important implications for rural regions. Rural families tend to experience longer periods of economic stress, since it can be more difficult to find a job that pays a living wage in rural areas.

Also, rural areas typically see more hurdles erected between residents and traditional mental health services: there are fewer providers, for example, cultures characterized by a strong belief in self-reliance, social stigma attached to seeking help, and long distances between residents and providers.

A side note:  the study’s authors note that parenting classes have long been the intervention-of-choice for struggling parents. But they also note that it is usually hard to get parents to actually attend them.

The softball league, on the other hand, could be met with much less resistance—and might do just as much good.

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Katie Redding

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